September 11, 2005
Wisconsin Cheese Tour: Brunkow Cheese Cooperative
Posted by Gordon Smith

Brunkow

A few weeks ago, I found a map of Wisconsin designed for cheese tasters. Talk about an invitation I could not refuse! So today, driving home from Iowa, I took a few back roads and visited two cheese factories. One of them was the Brunkow Cheese Cooperative, which is located outside of Darlington, Wisconsin.

If you want to know the Wisconsin that I know, avoid the interstate highways. In fact, avoid any road identified by numbers. Drive the county roads (perhaps misleadingly called "highways"), which are designated by letters. (My early years were spent on a farm on a Trempeleau County road called "Highway NN." My parents still refer to those years as "living on double-N.") At the intersection of two such roads -- Highway F and Highway G in Lafayette County -- you will find the Brunkow Cheese Cooperative.

Here is a brief history of the cooperative:

In 1899, a group of Wisconsin dairy farmers gathered to make plans to build a cheese factory, which would provide them with a market for their milk. They wanted a plant which would be built close to their farms, so that they could reduce the time and effort required getting their product to market ... for them and their horses.  The cheese factory was built as a co-op, with each farmer pledging money or labor to build the factory for his share in the co-op. It was named Brunkow Cheese Co-op for the farmer who donated the land.  A cheesemaker was hired. He furnished the machinery, tools and labor necessary to produce the cheese, and, once the cheese was sold, was paid a percentage of the money from the sale. A small amount of money was set aside for upkeep of the building, and what money remained was paid to the individual farmer members for each hundred pounds of milk he had delivered to the cheese factory for the month.

Brunkow still operates as a cooperative, and if you can't travel to rural Darlington, you can find their cheese at the Farmer's Market on Saturdays in Madison. (I didn't realize that until I walked into their store an saw a familiar label.) Although Brunkow mades a wide variety of cheeses, I know them for their cheddar cheese curds and aged cheese spreads, so I bought some of both.

Cheese curds are bite-sized chunks of cheddar cheese as they appear before being pressed into blocks and aged. In other words, this is fresh cheese. When you obtain them straight from the factory, as I did today, they are rubbery and they squeak when you bite them. Because they lose their freshness rapidly, Wisconsinites have taken to deep-fat frying them (coated in batter), which must be a fairly rapid route to a heart attack.

I rarely eat cheese spreads, which normally are a horrid imitation of real cheese. The Brunkow cheese spreads, on the other hand, are quite tasty. Their website explains why:

Our special blend of aged (over 100 days) raw milk Cheddar cheese, whey, cream, water and flavorings can enhance any meal or snack. We add no preservatives or artificial colors. Brunkow Cheese Co-op Cold Pack cheese is live, natural cheese with no relation to pasteurized, process cheeses. There is no heat involved, therefore the full flavor of the cheese remains.  Some spreads contain extra salt, stabilizers or added sugar, but not Brunkow Cheese Co-op Cold Pack Cheese Spread. The whey (with its own milk sugar) and cream make our spread naturally sweet. The flavor is exceptionally full-bodied.

Now I'm hungry again ...

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Comments (10)

1. Posted by Dave! on September 12, 2005 @ 7:11 | Permalink

Say, where can someone who is within easy driving distance of Wisconsin (say, Chicago) find one of those maps? That sounds like a map I should have...


2. Posted by Gordon Smith on September 12, 2005 @ 8:16 | Permalink

Dave, you can find instructions for obtaining a map here. They show an image of the front side of the map on that site, but the back has all of the valuable detail.


3. Posted by Gordon Smith on September 12, 2005 @ 8:18 | Permalink

Or you can request it on the internet here.


4. Posted by sean on September 14, 2005 @ 8:29 | Permalink

hey,we would like some help please,we bought a round of ostensibly 3 month old cheddar.when we opened it,there was a dryness to the cheddar and air gaps with little tinchy waxyish white beads,which did not have a pleasant taste or texture,it was quite reminiscent of birthday candles,so we asked the cheesemaker and he reckoned it was really fab whey crystallisation,told us that actually the cheese was 8 months old.i have tasted the salt crystals in pecorino,that was a good experience and what you describe sounds great,but the cheese we bought is not a good experience,i would like you to explain the gap!thanks sean!!


5. Posted by sean on September 14, 2005 @ 8:33 | Permalink

hey,we would like some help please,we bought a round of ostensibly 3 month old cheddar.when we opened it,there was a dryness to the cheddar and air gaps with little tinchy waxyish white beads,which did not have a pleasant taste or texture,it was quite reminiscent of birthday candles,so we asked the cheesemaker and he reckoned it was really fab whey crystallisation,told us that actually the cheese was 8 months old.i have tasted the salt crystals in pecorino,that was a good experience and what you describe sounds great,but the cheese we bought is not a good experience,i would like you to explain the gap!thanks sean!!


6. Posted by Dave! on September 14, 2005 @ 12:36 | Permalink

Thanks! I just requested my map... :)


7. Posted by Kate Engler on October 7, 2005 @ 13:46 | Permalink

A few weeks ago I discovered the following cheese at a farmer's market somewhere on the near north side of Chicago but I'm not sure where. Where and/or how can a get more of it? Can it be ordered vis mail and can it be frozen if I wish to purchase a larger quanity? The label read Brunkows Brunsto-Uusto Fried Cheese. I live in the far west suburn of Orland Park, IL 60467 - My phone is 708-478-3863. Thanks!


8. Posted by Dave Hunter on February 24, 2008 @ 16:00 | Permalink

I saw some reduced fat Brunkow cheese at our coop today. I am looking for some cheeses with reduced cholesterol. There was no nutritional information on the package. Does anyone know how many milligrams of cholesterol there are per gram of the reduced fat cheese?
Thanks


9. Posted by Hanna on June 1, 2009 @ 19:19 | Permalink

I read a story about the Brun-uusto (juustalepia) -
I myself am from Finland and love this cheese! I am happy to learn that you can get it in US as well - any chance to find it in LA where I live?

And, the name was incorrectly written - the correct name is
Juustoleipä .
Juusto=cheese leipä=bread.


10. Posted by moncler jackets on November 15, 2011 @ 16:28 | Permalink

Very, very nicely done!

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